When looking for a sweetheart, looks are going to matter. When looking for fruits and vegetables, ugly is in.
Last month on a business trip, we got plenty of food for breakfast and lunch. The fruits all looked good. I took a red apple. Beautiful, shiny, the kind of red apple that a child gives to the teacher in a heartwarming commercial.
When I bit into the apple, the apple tasted like it was grown … from very far away.
Looks can be deceiving.
The apple is a prime example of fruits and vegetables that have to look a certain way for consumers to want to buy that produce. So grocery stores are under pressure to display only that fruit and vegetables, rejecting perfectly good produce based purely on looks.
We've seen several recent stories about organizations giving new life to less than physically ideal produce. In a society where some aren't getting enough produce, due to access or money or both, the match fits like a jigsaw puzzle.
While we extoll the virtures of farmers markets, the vendors often fall into the same trap. To be fair, their excellent-looking produce tastes better than the handsome fruit and vegetables in mainstream grocery stores. Farmers will bring their more homely fruit and vegetables with them in boxes alongside the tables with the better-looking stuff. Ask nicely and chances are you will get a bounty for cheaper than the going rate for the more handsome produce.
Canning tomatoes involves the insides of the tomatoes, specifically removing the outside skin as part of the process. The tomatoes that you can truly can be horrific looking as long as they taste good.
Regular readers will recall that we compared salad greens to levels of dating partners. While you might have been amused and/or offended by that analogy, this debate is very similar.
We buy food based on color and prettiness. Fruits and vegetables really are the "girl next door." You want quality and value even if they aren't the kind of beautiful that end up on runways and fashion magazine covers.
Heirloom varieties are not pretty. Not pretty at all. Boy they deliver a great taste.
Mainstream grocery stores don't sell heirloom produce or purple potatoes. Not that people don't want them, but they're so different from traditional norms.
You certainly don't want ugly fruit that doesn't taste good, but ugly is fine if the taste is good.
We also have to adjust our expectations for out-of-season fruit. You can find quality apples out of season but they won't be shiny red like the kind you imagine Snow White got from the evil Queen.
If you are still reluctant, if looks are that important to you, start out slow. Put ugly fruit into a smoothie. Take ugly vegetables and pulse them into a soup. Those overripe bananas that are really getting ugly: put them in the freezer to make banana bread. Once you realize the beauty of ugly, you can move on to improve situations where looks are more visible.
Loving fruits and vegetables means taking them for their good points and bad points. If loving fruits and vegetables is difficult for you or you find yourself on the sidelines far too often, open yourself up. Embrace beauty even if it isn't obvious. You just might find that fruits and vegetables are more attractive when you get to know the goodness and taste they bring into the relationship of the diet.